At your (Express Zone) service…

As Chief Executive, I get to meet hundreds of people in the course of a year. I’ll wager you that I don’t hold the staff-record for the greatest number of face-to-face encounters, however. That accolade – I wouldn’t be at all surprised – may well go to Luke Daley and Charlie Beattie.

The reason I say this – and who the aforementioned are – will become apparent further down the page, but, by way of an introduction, Luke and Charlie work in Customer Services, within the Express Zone, at the Community Hub, in Colchester’s Central Library, where their time is mostly spent meeting, advising and supporting people to access the many services we provide. It might even be said that, for the thousands of residents and customers who use the Community Hub each year, Luke and Charlie characterise the familiar human face of the Council.

The achievements of an organisation are the results of the combined effort of each individual, and I’d like my blog to increasingly reflect that truth. Which is why I’ve asked Luke and Charlie if they’d both like to shine a light on what it’s like to work in the Community Hub, so that we might better appreciate the outstanding customer service that they, along with many other Council employees, deliver all year round.

Luke and Charlie, it’s over to you…

Luke and Charlie

Luke and Charlie

Hi, I’m Luke Daley and I’m an apprentice working in the Customer Support Team, based in the Colchester Library and Community Hub. As an apprentice, I have to spend at least three hours each week completing my NVQ, writing reflective accounts which culminates in a meeting, once a month, with the assessor who monitors my progress. Mostly, though, I work in the Express Zone.

The Express Zone is where we help residents find speedy solutions to benefits, Council Tax, housing and many other Council-related enquiries. Or, if their needs are more complicated and require additional work to resolve, we refer them to specialists on the First Floor for more in-depth advice. It is also where we provide one-to-one help and support to some of our most vulnerable residents who may need assistance using a range of online tools to self-serve, such as how to quick-scan personal information and provide evidence to access particular Council services.

A lot has changed, since I first started working at the Community Hub. Nowadays, as a result of the recent work to transform the service to encourage people to self-serve as much as possible, increasing numbers of customers are using Express Zone services to self-scan and interact online with the Council.

So that’s a bit of context, but what does my typical working day look like? Not that there is ever really a ‘typical’ day, mind. Well, I’ll try my best to do justice to it, but it usually goes something like this…

8:45am – We set up the self-serve equipment and make sure everything is fully charged and connected to the internet. We then have our morning briefing, to discuss any business updates and anticipate challenges that may arise over the coming day.

9am – The Morning Rush begins. I must say, we’re always well-prepared for this, as the technology in the Express Zone helps us to work really well together as an efficient and effective team, answering people’s questions and concerns. The Community Hub is an incredibly busy and dynamic place to work, not least because it brings together a variety of partners such as Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Colchester Community Voluntary Services, Essex County Council and Colchester Borough Homes. This enables residents to access a range of services in a joined-up way.

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Luke shows a customer how to use the Quick-Scan machine

1pm – Another customary busy period ends. I take my lunch-break upstairs, managing to find a few moments to chat with some Community Hub colleagues from Essex County Council.

2pm – After lunch, I usually undertake some study time for my NVQ coursework. I find this time incredibly useful, as I really don’t want to get behind with my work!

I feel very fortunate to be able to support some of the most vulnerable residents of Colchester. Though my job can sometimes mean assisting people who may find themselves in a very difficult place, coping with the troubling issues they face, it really is a great feeling to know I’ve played some part in helping people overcome obstacles in their life.

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Charlie Beattie – “Welcome to the Express Zone.”

Hello, my name is Charlie. Since graduating from University two years ago, I’ve been working for Colchester Borough Council.

Allow me to proudly welcome you to the Express Zone. The Express Zone helps residents in need of advice and guidance, focusing predominately on shorter enquiries and helping them to interact with our brand new technological services!

We strive to ensure that all residents receive clear, professional advice and help needed to improve confidence with our technology. We promote not only self-sufficiency through the use of ‘self-serve’, but we also take great pride in being able to recognise the most vulnerable customers who come to us, who may need further assistance to use our systems. We are incredibly passionate about the work we do and about the customers we support.

Luke has already hinted at the schedule we follow as a team each morning, before the day begins in earnest, but I think it’s worth reiterating because, without that early morning team effort, we wouldn’t be properly prepared to hit the ground running the moment the doors open to the public.

So, at around 8:30am, to ensure that all of the technology is up and running and the systems are operational for our busy day ahead, we charge all of the equipment and make sure it’s working and ready for public use. I cannot emphasise enough just how important it is to ensure that we’re able to provide a full and continuous service throughout the day. We then have our team meeting at 8:45am, which helps give an insight into what to expect during the course of the day and any other important issues we should be aware of.

9am – The Express Zone opens and we begin to welcome our customers. The Customer Support Officers on the First Floor are ready to support those with complex Benefits, Council Tax issues or housing needs.

We’re here to support each and every customer, especially those who are vulnerable, and we have become extremely adept at determining whether or not someone requires wider support. Since we work closely with many other specialist organisations, it is essential that we keep up-to-date with the range of services they provide, so that we can give the very best service and support to our residents – whether that be in the form of help to overcome a current housing problem, Welfare Benefits Advice, or simply supporting those who lack confidence using the latest technology. Any one of these factors may contribute to a reluctance in some people to approach us with their concerns. And, of course, whenever it’s appropriate, we also actively promote the ‘Go Online’ initiative, so customers with the confidence to use IT can complete their applications or engage with the Council outside of normal business hours if they want to.

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“…We’re here to support each and every customer…”

1pm – We usually rotate the lunch-time breaks to suit the daily plan, making sure the customers we are supporting are dealt with before we leave. You have to be flexible, in this role, because of the unpredictable nature of certain queries. Luke, myself and the others are each able to determine if someone requires much more time to resolve an in-depth query, and we will often rotate and juggle our times around if necessary.

We are incredibly enthusiastic about the Express Zone, and this energy transfers to the customers who are also very happy with our transformation!

5pm – Work ends and I have a chance to reflect on my achievements during the day. Oh, before I go, I must tell you about our monthly whole team meetings: these are quite different, in that we don’t just listen to our managers! What I mean is that, each month, a different internal or external partner talks with us to make us aware of their work or what their organisation delivers. This helps us to connect with and understand the wider support which is on offer in the community, and we can join all this up in our conversations with customers. Luke and I have almost become walking and talking support directories!

(Adrian): Thanks Luke and Charlie for your thoughts and insights. I think it’s fair to say the ground-breaking Community Hub has become, in a relatively short space of time, a hugely busy and vibrant community space, with a reputation for supportive and innovative customer service. It truly is an impressive example of how organisations can work together to deliver a range of frontline and other speciality services under one roof.

I know from the feedback we’ve received from our customers that residents have welcomed the one-stop shop approach and have embraced the idea of assisted self-serve remarkably well.

As I reported in an earlier Blogpost, we’ve worked very hard as a Council to encourage behaviour-change, enabling residents and customers to understand that they do not need to see a specialist adviser for transactions that can be carried out online. The effect has been to reduce in-person contact significantly.

But as Luke and Charlie describe so well: there’ll always be a need for the ‘human touch’ if we’re to be able to continue to provide the best possible service to everyone in our community.

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